This is a longer version of an article also published in the Financial Times.
This is the first of four articles to be published over the first four Saturdays in December on my top selections in various styles of wine. The Financial Times will be publishing 25 each of fizz, reds, whites and strong/sweet wines but here I have the room to include a few more favourites. Next Saturday - reds. There are magnums of Berry Bros Grand Cru Champagne to be won by those who collect passwords from each FT. For a shortcut to champagne bargains in the UK see Giles Fallowfield's website.
Sparkling wine is presenting champagne with more and more of a challenge. If price is no object, Selfridge's have a particularly good range, but for value plus quality, Lea & Sandeman is difficult to beat. They can offer even better prices than those below for larger orders, which can be of mixed bottles. Vine Trail specialise in the glory of champagnes from small growers rather than big houses. Use wine-searcher.com to find other stockists all over the world - because although I have given the most obvious UK stockist below, most of these wines are available internationally. See also our tasting articles on champagne, including some quite recent additions.
Philippe Michel 2009 Crémant du Jura
Jura makes very fine fizz. Smart Krug-like bottle. Pale greenish straw. You can taste the dosage (sweetness added just before final corking) and it's a little astringent but it's very clean and fresh and light - and is almost given away. But please note that most branches of Aldi have moved on to the 2010, which I have not been able to taste. 12.5%
Valli Unite, Brut & The Beast 2011 Piemonte
Pale honey colour for this unusual, very lightly sparkling north-west Italian. Appley and then so powerfully umami that I was transported to Japan. Very light and refreshing, this is a wine you could drink any time. Fades fast but such fun! 13%
£11 Aubert & Mascoli
Berry's NV Crémant de Limoux
Blend of Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Mauzac and Pinot Noir from Antech in the Pyrenean foothills. Low-key, lightly appley nose. Nice texture. Some real satisfaction and interest. Good balance. Not too tart. Gentle. 12%
£11.95 Berry Bros
Poulet NV Clairette de Die
75% Muscat with Clairette Blanche. Grapey nose and light, medium-sweet palate with lower acidity than, for example, a typical Moscato d'Asti. An entertaining mouthful of lively grape juice and nicely refined mousse. An afternoon wine? 8%
£12 The Sampler
Vitteaut-Alberti, Blanc de Blancs NV Crémant de Bourgogne
Light, fresh, very delicate. Not bad at all for the money. Simple with a fairly fast fade but not aggressively anything. 12%
£13.50 Stone Vine & Sun
J Laurens, Les Graimenous 2010 Crémant de Limoux
Attractive typographical label. Very pure, clean, direct. Quite simple - as one would expect for such a young wine - but it seems great value to me. Mountain stream stuff. 12%
Ch Rives-Blanques 2010 Blanquette de Limoux
Mainly local Mauzac grapes that taste of cooking apples. Quite explosive and a tad frothy but an excellent example of this characterful grape. Slight chew on the end. 12.5%
About £14 Cambridge Wine Merchants, Great Western Wine, James Nicholson
Domaine de la Taille aux Loups, Triple Zéro 2009 Montlouis
Essence of Loire Chenin Blanc, hints of honey and toast but no added sugar at any stage. Lovely texture and gentle mousse. 12.5%
Benoit Badoz, Rosé NV Crémant du Jura
Fresh, lightly perfumed Pinot Noir nose. Very fine bead, like all good Jura fizzes. A gentle caress. Dry but not demanding in terms of high acidity. Surely one of the best-value pink fizzes around. For drinking not keeping though. 12%
£16.50 The Sampler
Sainsbury's Blanc de Blancs NV Champagne
Who could resist a winemaker called Sandrine Logette-Jardin? This all-Chardonnay wine is from Duval-Leroy, is not the driest but has lots of green-apple freshness. Delicate and piercing without excess sugar, astringency or froth. 12%
Currently reduced to £16.87 from £22.49 Sainsbury's
Ridgeview, Merret Bloomsbury 2010 England
From the most garlanded Sussex fizz producer and a particularly good year. Much subtler and fresher on the nose than the Graham Beck Cape fizz tasted alongside it. Good acidity (never an English failing). Not complex but the wine is beautifully balanced.
Veuve Fourny, Blanc de Blancs, Premier Cru NV Champagne
Full and round with some complexity thanks to generous bottle age. The fruit comes from Vertus at the southern end of the Côte des Blancs. This wine from a négociant shows some attractive bottle age. Very tight texture. Bone dry. Not luscious by any means but a real appetite stimulant. 12%
£23 The Wine Society
Barnaut, Grande Réserve Grand Cru Bouzy NV Champagne
As soon as I poured this I could smell a most agreeable light biscuity perfume. Certainly not bone dry, nor especially tart but beautifully balanced. Absolutely nothing to object to. Just £22.95 if a mixed dozen bottles are bought. 12.5%
£24.95 Lea & Sandeman
Ridgeview, South Ridge Blanc de Noirs 2009 England
Lovely development on the nose. Nice roundness on the palate (lower acid than most English fizz). Just very slightly hard on the finish but overall quite good enough to serve a visiting Frenchman.
Chartogne-Taillet, Sainte Anne NV Champagne
Archetypal 'small grower' based in Merfy. A good, informative back label tells us this blend is mainly 2008 and Pinot Noir predominates. This tastes open, somehow sensitive, almost fragile but a champagne you want to nurture. Very clean and brisk. But it also has some palate weight. Some length too. And a rather smart label to boot. Geat value. 12%
£25 The Wine Society
Larmandier-Bernier, Tradition Extra Brut Premier Cru NV Champagne
Restrained nose that suggests great delicacy. Real race, spine, and structure. Very grown up champagne. Some Extra Brut champagnes are aggressively dry, but not this one. A very fair price. See also L&S's great-value mixed cases from this fine producer. 12.5%
£29.95 Lea & Sandeman
Nyetimber, Classic Cuvée 2008 England
First vintage to have Canadian winemaker Cherie Spriggs in charge and first since 1998 to be treated to 100% softening malolactic fermentation, which is A Good Thing. Lighter nose than the Nyetimber Merret 2010 but very refreshing. Tastes like a Blanc de Blancs, although there is less than 80% Chardonnay in the blend. 12%
Larmandier-Bernier, Blanc de Blancs Extra Brut Premier Cru NV Champagne
Actually this tastes a little broader than the Tradition Extra Brut and has very obvious filigree Chardonnay flavours and lots of acidity. 12.5%
£31.95 Lea & Sandeman
Herbert Beaufort NV Champagne
Heavily Pinot Noir-dominated and from a grower in Bouzy. Split equally between 2007 and 2008 vintages and disgorged a year ago. Perfumed, seductive nose. Quite aggressive fizz but there's lots of explosive personality here. Still quite youthful. Persistent.
£32 M&S 142 stores
Bollinger, Special Cuvée NV Champagne
Lots of character here. Bone dry with great structure and confidence. Not that light! Lots of maturity. The gentle fizz feels as though it has had to battle its way through great intensity of flavour. Kick of acidity on the end. 12%
£34.95 Lea & Sandeman and widely elsewhere, usually at a higher price
Jacquesson, No 735 NV Champagne
Special cuvée aged in oak casks and with a particularly low dosage (sweetening added before final corking). Dry, very fine and long. This bottling seems to me to have been on sale for decades! But this can't be true since it's based on the 2007 vintage. Nicely balanced and grown up. Complex and complete. 12%
£35 The Wine Society
Larmandier-Bernier, Terre de Vertus Non Dosé Premier Cru NV Champagne
Smells quite mature, tight knit and complex. Very satisfying despite the lack of any added sugar. Really dense and intellectual. A fair price if this is the sort of champagne you're after. Krug-ish. 12.5%
£36.95 Lea & Sandeman
Eric Rodez, Cuvée des Crayères Grand Cru NV Champagne
From Ambonnay, equal proportions of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Based on 2007 with reserve wines back to 2002. Complex, well developed nose with some honey and toast - though no obvious oak. Very firm, solid and savoury. Serious champagne. Rather Bollinger style. This champagne almost smokes a cigar!
£39.90 The Sampler
Louis Roederer 2006 Champagne
Pale gold. Dry finish. Substance here though the wine is still quite youthful. Serious champagne from a family-owned company that now owns bordeaux second growth Ch Pichon Lalande. Very refreshing and dry on the finish.
About £45 Tanners, The Wine Society and others
Veuve Clicquot 2004 Champagne
Notes when tasted blind: Very light nose with a hint of apple skins. Then a hit of dosage. Tight texture. Very good bead - a talented winemaker here. Refreshing finish. But it fades just slightly.
About £45 Slurp and others
Pol Roger 2002 Champagne
This wine showed beautifully in a comparative tasting of top wines from the superlative 2002 vintage last week.
£49 The Wine Society, also Lea & Sandeman, Berry Bros
Egly-Ouriet, Rosé Grand Cru Ambonnay NV Champagne
Very pale strawberry with an intriguing hint of cheesiness on the nose (better than the usual sickly raspberry aromas). Very fine bead and admirably dry finish. Distinctly superior - but so is the price.
£63.25 Lea & Sandeman
Taittinger, Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs 2002 Champagne
A stunning vintage and a very fine example of this luxurious champagne.
£120 Berry Bros
Krug, Grande Cuvée NV Champagne
The current cuvée is still young, but potentially great - greater than many a vintage-dated Krug. Now with a code signifying date of disgorgement. The first three digits are the most important. If the number begins 311, it means that the wine was disgorged in the third quarter of 2011, for example. You can find out more from krug.com.
About £135, widely distributed
Billecart-Salmon, Cuvée Elisabeth Salmon 2002 Champagne
The palest salmon pink. Stream of tiny bubbles.. Quite mature and resolved on the nose. Really appetising kick on the finish and admirable persistence, though a less complex finale than the Bollinger Rosé 2004 tasted alongside. Fine rather than emphatic.
About £140 Hedonism Wines and others